Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie
TALON 

CODE TALKERS HONORED

 

November 17, 2017

Jacque Ritchie

Marine Honor Guard presents a wreath for the Navajo Code Talkers Memorial dedication with John Kinsel Sr.

At 96, John Kinsel, Sr. is one of the last surviving Navajo Code Talkers (NCT). Kinsel recently visited Aztec to attend the November 10 dedication of the Navajo Code Talkers Memorial. The new monument is located in front of the San Juan County Administration Building at 100 South Oliver Dr. County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter acted as MC at the dedication. The inspiring, sometimes tearful ceremony was well attended and received. Kinsel was an honored guest.

The TALON sat down with a real American hero for a rare interview: John Kinsel was born late in the month on the quarter moon. Kinsel is not sure of his exact birth date. He adopted January 22, 1921 (1/22/21) because, like the card game, the numbers are "a full house" which made it easy to remember. The following is transcribed from a taped interview, with supplemental information from Kinsel's autobiography, courtesy of Ron Kinsel.

"So I went to school up here, in Santa Fe." Kinsel attended St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, class of 1942. "Pearl Harbor was bombed Sunday and we didn't get the news until later. It was December 7 and it was about 10 o'clock and we were going to church and after that we came out of church. We start listening (to the radio) and Pearl Harbor was bombed." Kinsel recalls, "This was my senior year, it was a good thing. When I graduated I had my diploma in here," Kinsel shows how he hid his diploma under his shirt for safekeeping. "I got outta there and got on a train." Right out of high school Kinsel and some of his friends were hired to work in a warehouse in San Diego. After six months the warehouse was converted to support the war-effort and Kinsel and his pals were laid-off. "We didn't know what to do. We were just walking around, you know, we were sitting under a tree near the sidewalk and there was couple guys coming up and they were Marines. And I said, 'I know what we will do, we will go join up with them.'" Kinsel sets his jaw as he recounts, "So we walked right up to them and said, 'What are you guys doing around here?' And they said, 'We are recruiting,' and right away I said, 'I want to join the Marines,' but they said, 'We can't let you do that, you have to go back. Go home and tell your family that you want to join the Marines.'" Kinsel was not dissuaded, "We went to the office and we filled out the papers anyway. So that's how we got into the Marine Corps, we volunteered." Kinsel continued, "At that time, I guess you heard the story about the 'First 29'...they were already recruited in there (Marine Corps), we met them two weeks later."

According to Wikipedia the 'First 29' were the first Navajo Code Talkers to develop the unbreakable code that successfully defied all Japanese attempts to decipher it.

Kinsel recalls, "They (the First 29) took off on a bus, they went to Camp Elliot before us. They told us guys to go home for two weeks. So I went back home (to Lukachukai, AZ). I had two little sisters and my mom." Kinsel's father had passed away when he was very young and he does not remember ever seeing him. "I told her (his mother) that I had joined the marines, I guess she didn't like it, I know she cried, emotional I guess. She said, 'Why did you do that? You are the older big one, you're the only one taking care of us, but that's alright, sooner or later they would come and take you anyway.'"

Before leaving Arizona, Kinsel's mother insisted he participate in a powerful warrior ritual to protect him in battle.

In 1942, Kinsel was sworn in and assigned to the H&S Company, 9th Marine Regiment, Signal Corps under the 3rd Marine Division FMF. He and 24 other Navajo recruits received training to be Code Talker/Communication Specialists at Camp Elliot, California. When he arrived in "Code School" Kinsel looked for the First 29. "I looked around for those guys. I couldn't find them. I said, 'Where did they go?' Some people, they make fun you know, they said, 'We lined them up and kilt them already.'"

Kinsel received further training in amphibious landings in New Zealand and in jungle warfare in Guadalcanal in 1943. Kinsel used the Code Talker Language during his training period. Guadalcanal was still being raided and bombed by the Japanese even though the allies had technically secured the island. Kinsel said, "Washing Machine Charley bombed us and we had a very bad time during the nights, although they were lousy shots."

Kinsel's first campaign was in Bougainville (North Solomon Island's). The company came ashore November 1, 1943. During the initial landing Kinsel encountered a Marine who had been killed in action. The person was young and blonde and Kinsel reports that the first thing he thought was; How would his mother and father and relatives deal with his death in battle in this far-away place?

Kinsel said at the time, he and his fellow NCT's didn't consider how their job was impacting the war, they just had a job to do and were proud and determined to do it.

There are no Navajo words for airplanes or mortars, etc.. The Navajo Code Talker's developed their own code within a code to accomplish the mission. Kinsel explained, "I will tell you a few of them (code words), a tank we call them turtle, and airplane was a bird carrier. Hauling birds, that is what we call them. Of course different planes we called different names like owl. The boats, we call them fish, and bombs, we call them eggs, you know like chicken eggs. So we gave these weapons code words. Even regular Navajo (not signalmen) some of those were sailors or Army, or Air Force, they did not know what we were saying. So that's the way it was ... it was interpretation to figure out what the message contained." Kinsel smiled as he recounted an incident, "There was this (Navajo) guy he was a co-pilot and he was just flying around up there and he heard us on the radio. He said, 'Hey, those are my people talking' and they said, 'What they sayin'?' he say, 'I don't know why they're talkin' about eggs, maybe they are having breakfast or something.'" Kinsel laughed at the memory.

Kinsel describes the difficult in-country conditions, "They tell me, 'If you want to make it, don't sleep too much. You gotta toughen yourself up.' You know what? Over there it's hot! It's raining all the time. And the doggone malaria! If you are not strong it will come to you, but it's alright, I stood it." Kinsel was thoughtful for a moment, "The thing that really chokes you is thirst. Everyday we all get a canteen full. I was sorry for those guys that would drink it up even before one hour." Kinsel said ruefully, "I would have mine hanging on me, still about full and they would look at me with their eyes down like that, and they would say, 'How did you do that?' I would say, 'I'm not thirsty.'" Kinsel recalls,

The 9th Regiment stormed Guam on July 21, 1944 in a campaign that lasted until August 10, 1944. Kinsel's unit then joined the allied invasion of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945.

Lasting 39 days, Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest, most hard-fought campaigns of the war. The seige saw 25,851 allied casualties with 7,000 KIA. The Japanese suffered 22,000 dead during the conflict. Kinsel saw hundreds of wounded and dead soldiers along the bloody beaches of Iwo Jima.

After only two days on shore Kinsel's unit became aware of a 50-man Japanese force holed up in nearby mountain caves. Using huge barrels of water, Kinsel's unit blocked the cave entrance, attempting to prevent or slow down an attack. The Japanese blew up the mountainside. The tremendous force of the blast sent trees, boulders and earth down on the Marines below burying half the men. Kinsel recalls that night:

"When they blew the hill up, there was a boulder, I saw it coming. It was dark but I still saw it. I curled up like this..." Kinsel bends low and covers his head with his arms, "but it got me anyway and I couldn't stand up. I couldn't move at all."

Marine John Rob Walker of Texas came to Kinsel's aid. "There was a guy from Texas, he was about 240 pounds. He said, 'What happen Mutt?' He always called me Mutt. I said, 'I don't know. I can't stand up.' So he picked me up and he carried me like a little baby all the way to sick-bay. It was the middle-of-the-night, it was about two miles. He (Walker) was my big buddy you know, he really watched out for me."

Jacque Ritchie

Kinsel visited VFW Post #614 after the monument dedication

Kinsel suffered a broken ankle during the battle and was discharged from active duty on January 1, 1946. After he returned home to Arizona he worked for the Lukachukai Community School for 35 years. Kinsel married Mary Elizabeth and the couple had three sons and two daughters. Mary Elizabeth passed away in 2012 at the age of 89.

"My dad always talks about the land, the water and the air, he says, that's what we fought for," said son Ron Kinsel of his father.

Many thanks to Tweeti Blancett, owner of Step Back Inn for providing accommodations, also to Bloomfield resident do-gooder, Etta Arviso for Kinsel's transportation and so much more, and finally to all the good folks at the Aztec Subway sandwich shop especially Stephen, for subs and cookies at Aztec VFW after Friday's ceremony.

 

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